★★★★☆ | Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Sunderland
**This review was taken from the Sheffield date**
During the 1960’s Carole King was part of one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the era, writing hits for The Shirelles, The Drifters and Little Eva; leading to success with songs including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “The Loco-Motion”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman”, “You’ve Got A Friend” and “I Feel The Earth Move”. But behind the success was a personal struggle for King in trying to make her marriage with Gerry Goffin, her philandering husband and songwriting partner, work; and it is her rise to the top and her troubled home life which form the backbone of the story for this musical biopic.
Beautiful really stands apart from the usual jukebox musical/musical biopics, given the quality of the writing, presentation and performances. The narrative absorbs you straightaway; and there is an abundance of instantly likeable characters, a wonderfully sharp script filled with warmth, humour and personality and a lighting design which really does bring the stage to life, making it feel bright, bubbly and brimming with energy.
But the quality was not reserved only for the look of the piece, but extends to its rather talented cast members. Bronte Barbe was delightfully charismatic as Carole King, projecting a powerful voice without ever having to force a note; and exuding a natural and believable on-stage chemistry with Kane Oliver Parry as King’s husband, Gerry Goffin. Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves bounced off each other nicely as the bickering Weil and Mann; and the entire cast, including the ensemble, all stepped up the plate in terms of their vocals, alongside some incredibly competent acting, giving rise to very believable performances across the board.
The first act, detailing King’s success within the music industry, brings with it a barrage of 17 musical numbers which are performed with flair and vigour; whilst the second act is slightly more downbeat and more drama focussed, as the decline of King’s marriage and her growth into a solo artist are depicted.
Although you may not have heard of Carole King, her music is embedded into popular culture, and with the number of songs that you immediately recognise adorning the stage, you realise just how much of an influential songwriter King really was. Ultimately, this is a story of love, hope and determination, and a production which rises above the usual jukebox musicals with a set of strong central performances, in particularly Bronte, and a polished, professional and quality feel.
Beautiful is at the Sunderland Empire, until the 10th March 2018
The show then continues on its national tour until 23 June 2018. Click here to book tickets.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.